When people first heard about Valve’s involvement with HTC in the creation of the HTC Vive VR platform, speculations ran wild. Would Aperture Labs see a recreation specifically for VR? Would the likes of GLaDOS and the Portal franchise, Half Life, Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress, and others transition to VR to help build a killer portfolio of platform exclusives?
Here we are, several weeks removed from the launch of the consumer version of the platform and the closest thing we’ve got to any of those properties in VR is The Lab, which is little more than a collection of teases and demo experiences. That’s hardly what fans were hoping for exactly. And can you blame them? The Vive’s motion controllers even vaguely resemble a Portal gun, so naturally it made sense to imagine that specific humorous sci-fi title would see a VR incarnation in some form.
Fun Without Portals
Luckily, the fine folks at Prism Studios are here to satiate that appetite ever-so-slightly with the release of Portal Stories: VR, the successor to their hugely popular previous mod, Portal Stories: Mel.
I say ever-so-slightly simply because it’s a 100% free-to-download community-made experience that will only take you about 20-45 minutes to complete, depending on your experience with puzzle games and VR in general. Due to the licensing issues and trickiness of distributing something based on a property that you don’t own, this is listed in Steam as a mod for Portal 2, even though it isn’t actually a mod. You have to have Portal 2 on your Steam account to play Portal Stories: VR, but you don’t need to have it installed or downloaded.
Now with that being said, Portal Stories: VR is absolutely worth a download for all fans of the Portal franchise. None of the team members work for Valve, but they could have easily fooled me. The voice acting is on-point, delivering sarcastic one-liners that even GLaDOS would be proud of. The puzzles themselves aren’t very difficult as there are only 10 and even the most difficult one only took me maybe 5 minutes to figure out on my first attempt, but it’s enough to make you forget you’re wearing an HMD as you get sucked into this iconic universe.
Also of note is the fact that, despite the name and the property that Portal Stories: VR is based on, there are actually no portals on display in this adventure. Instead of using portals, you’ll teleport around the levels using one gun, while picking up and dropping blocks using the other gun. That’s pretty much it. It doesn’t get overly complicated at any point, but the levels are all distinct enough that playing them all through at least twice felt adequately satisfying.
A Wish for More
Portal Stories: VR is at its best when it combines all of the mechanics at play – moving companion cubes, deactivating force fields, teleporting, and redirection lasers – into larger puzzles, such as in the final two levels. Everything up until those scenarios feel like little more than a tutorial, then just as what you think is the “main game” is about to start, it all comes to a screeching halt as it ends.
While the most noteworthy accomplishment of Portal Stories: VR is the simple fact that they’ve adapted Valve’s hugely popular IP into VR before the company that created the game and the headset itself could, that’s not my biggest takeaway from the experience. What I appreciate the most is that the team at Prism Studios have now distinguished themselves as fantastic developers. I can’t wait to see what they work on next because this small group of individuals created a AAA-quality experience that, while short-lived and begging for more depth, is more polished and engaging than most completed VR experiences you can find and pay money for on Steam.
If you have Portal 2, which you likely do if you own a gaming PC and enjoy fun things, then you owe it to yourself to download Portal Stories: VR and give it a try. It’s available now for free on Steam and as of the time of this publication, the developers are hosting an AMA on Reddit to field questions and feedback. The video featured at the top of this article features gameplay of the entire experience, from start to finish.